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Humane Society finds a new director

POSTED: April 2, 2013 12:31 a.m.

From the first conversation, David Arias stood out to those looking to hire a new executive director at the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia.

He was in the grocery store when Miguel Abi-Hassan, a consultant for the humane society who is executive director of the Halifax Humane Society in Florida, gave him a call. Thinking it’d be a short call just to get an idea of whether to move forward, Arias went ahead and took it.

“Well, we really hit it off, and we ended up talking for about 45 minutes in the produce section, and you know it was really exciting,” Arias said.

But he wasn’t sure what would happen next.

“You can feel like you had a great discussion, and you can feel like your skills match up well with the description that you read,” Arias said. “But the big unknown is that you don’t know whether this superdynamic, fundraising-master, experienced humane society operator comes in, and no matter how good you think everything went, they’re just better.”

Arias needn’t have worried. Abi-Hassan called Julie Edwards, director of development and marketing at the humane society on West Ridge Road in Gainesville, and told her he had found her guy.

“This is a gentleman who has both nonprofit leadership and fundraising ability at a national level, at a national scope and even international,” Abi-Hassan said. “He’s led an exemplary career at the Red Cross ... and this candidate, just from the very moment I met him, impressed me as an individual who certainly has the skill set to take Humane Society of Northeast Georgia to its full potential and beyond.”

Arias has worked the past seven years in Alabama with the American Red Cross, most recently as a national employee in the finance department, supporting division vice presidents in finance and fundraising. Before that he worked as a CPA and did consulting in banking and finance.

But as the Red Cross went through a restructuring, it looked like he would have to move his family to Washington, D.C., if he stayed, and that didn’t appeal to him.

He began looking for another option, searching for something that matched his interests and allowed him to stay in the Southeast. Luckily for him, the humane society was searching since longtime director Rick Aiken had announced in 2012 that he was retiring.

Arias was plucked from an original batch of resumes in the hundreds, which was narrowed to 20 or so candidates who got phone calls and then to six for in-person interviews.

“David really exceeded what we were hoping to find,” said Sid Chandler, chairman of the board of directors for the society. “We were really excited to be able to find a guy with his character. His skill set sort of leads us to go in a direction we haven’t been before just in terms of doing new things. I think he could really make us a shelter that other shelters would look at as a model for the industry going forward.”

And the excitement was mutual.

Arias showed up to his in-person interview having done tremendous research not only on his potential employer, but also on other humane societies, Edwards said. He came with a 29-page booklet of the things he’d do in his first 90 days.

“His interest level was obviously there, and I think that immediately impressed us all,” Edwards said.

Arias’ first day on the job was Monday, though he’s already been getting acquainted with how things run, having conversations with Chandler as well as Aiken.

Fundraising will be a large part of his job, but the role also includes supporting his staff, planning strategy for the future and working with the board.

“The fun part is the relationships part,” Arias said. “The problem is fundraising is a difficult job and it requires that right brain relationship part, but it also requires that meticulous tracking numbers, analyzing side, too.”

He also already knows he wants to address some storage problems and possibly work with local students to make some updates to the facility. Involving students is something he’s familiar with thanks to similar Red Cross efforts, and it gives real-world opportunities to students and meets the goals of the society.

In his first week, though, he’s focused on meeting with all employees to learn exactly what they do and what could be improved. He’ll do that with the board members, some volunteers and donors, too.

As he moves forward, though, it seems he’s already got a lot of support.

“We feel like someone like David can help us further the cause, and protect and save more animals, which is what we’re all about,” Chandler said.


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